Neurons that control overeating also drive appetite for cocaine

June 24, 2012, Yale University

Researchers at Yale School of Medicine have zeroed in on a set of neurons in the part of the brain that controls hunger, and found that these neurons are not only associated with overeating, but also linked to non-food associated behaviors, like novelty-seeking and drug addiction.

Published in the June 24 online issue of Nature Neuroscience, the study was led by Marcelo O. Dietrich, postdoctoral associate, and Tamas L. Horvath, the Jean and David W. Wallace Professor of Biomedical Research and chair of comparative medicine at Yale School of Medicine.

In attempts to develop treatments for such as obesity and diabetes, researchers have paid increasing attention to the brain's reward circuits located in the midbrain, with the notion that in these patients, food may become a type of "drug of abuse" similar to cocaine. Dietrich notes, however, that this study flips the common wisdom on its head.

"Using , we found that increased appetite for food can actually be associated with decreased interest in novelty as well as in cocaine, and on the other hand, less interest in food can predict increased interest in cocaine," said Dietrich.

Horvath and his team studied two sets of . In one set, they knocked out a signaling molecule that controls hunger-promoting neurons in the . In the other set, they interfered with the same neurons by eliminating them selectively during development using . The mice were given various non-invasive tests that measured how they respond to novelty, and anxiety, and how they react to cocaine.

"We found that animals that have less interest in food are more interested in novelty-seeking behaviors and drugs like cocaine," said Horvath. "This suggests that there may be individuals with increased drive of the reward circuitry, but who are still lean. This is a complex trait that arises from the activity of the basic feeding circuits during development, which then impacts the adult response to drugs and novelty in the environment."

Horvath and his team argue that the hypothalamus, which controls vital functions such as body temperature, hunger, thirst fatigue and sleep, is key to the development of higher brain functions. "These hunger-promoting neurons are critically important during development to establish the set point of higher brain functions, and their impaired function may be the underlying cause for altered motivated and cognitive behaviors," he said.

"There is this contemporary view that obesity is associated with the increased drive of the reward circuitry," Horvath added. "But here, we provide a contrasting view: that the reward aspect can be very high, but subjects can still be very lean. At the same time, it indicates that a set of people who have no interest in food, might be more prone to ."

Explore further: Free radicals crucial to suppressing appetite, study finds

Related Stories

Free radicals crucial to suppressing appetite, study finds

August 28, 2011
Obesity is growing at alarming rates worldwide, and the biggest culprit is overeating. In a study of brain circuits that control hunger and satiety, Yale School of Medicine researchers have found that molecular mechanisms ...

Study links insulin action on brain's reward circuitry to obesity

June 7, 2011
Researchers reporting in the June issue of Cell Metabolism have what they say is some of the first solid proof that insulin has direct effects on the reward circuitry of the brain. Mice whose reward centers can no longer ...

Receptor limits the rewarding effects of food and cocaine

July 12, 2011
(Medical Xpress) -- Researchers have long known that dopamine, a brain chemical that plays important roles in the control of normal movement, and in pleasure, reward and motivation, also plays a central role in substance ...

How the brain puts the brakes on the negative impact of cocaine

January 11, 2012
Research published by Cell Press in the January 12 issue of the journal Neuron provides fascinating insight into a newly discovered brain mechanism that limits the rewarding impact of cocaine. The study describes protective ...

Recommended for you

Sensitive babies become altruistic toddlers

September 25, 2018
Our responsiveness to seeing others in distress accounts for variability in helping behavior from early in development, according to a study published September 25 in the open-access journal PLOS Biology by Tobias Grossmann ...

Immune cell pruning of dopamine receptors may modulate behavioral changes in adolescence

September 25, 2018
A study by MassGeneral Hospital for Children (MGHfC) researchers finds that the immune cells of the brain called microglia play a crucial role in brain development during adolescence, but that role is different in males and ...

Scientists reverse a sensory impairment in mice with autism

September 25, 2018
Using a genetic technique that allows certain neurons in the brain to be switched on or off, UCLA scientists reversed a sensory impairment in mice with symptoms of autism, enabling them to learn a sensory task as quickly ...

Why it doesn't get dark when you blink

September 25, 2018
People blink every five seconds. During this brief moment, no light falls on the retina, yet people continue to observe a stable picture of the environment with no intervals of darkness. Caspar Schwiedrzik and Sandrin Sudmann, ...

Researchers identify new cause of brain bleeds

September 25, 2018
A team of researchers including UCI project scientist Rachita Sumbria, Ph.D. and UCI neurologist Mark J. Fisher, MD have provided, for the first time, evidence that blood deposits in the brain may not require a blood vessel ...

Lung inflammation from childhood asthma linked with later anxiety

September 25, 2018
Persistent lung inflammation may be one possible explanation for why having asthma during childhood increases your risk for developing anxiety later in life, according to Penn State researchers.

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Telekinetic
not rated yet Jun 24, 2012
I'd bet the farm that you could add gambling into the mix.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.